1. Influence has to do with relationships between people – both online and offline. I may be considered an influencer in the association space, but it’s NOT because I have 7k followers on Twitter. It’s because my friends include many other people who have blogs and followers of their own, as well as people who aren’t much online at all but are engaged in the association community in real life. And by friends, I mean REAL friends. People that would share or click on something if I asked them to. Who would participate in a particular conversation if I requested their input. If you’re an active participant in your community, immersed in listening and responding and building relationships on a daily basis, you will already know who is connected to whom just through your regular interactions with people.
2. There’s no such thing as influence without context. Remember this? It didn’t matter how much I asked for help, I didn’t give my ask enough context to get people to care about it. It’s like when you stick something in both the “strength” and “weakness” boxes in a SWOT exercise – it’s rendered totally meaningless without context. If you want to give people a reason to act on something for you, you need to explain why it matters – to you, to them, and why now.
3. Influence is a temporary and continuously fluctuating state of being for any individual. Someone’s ability to drive action online, say on Twitter, might fluctuate depending on what time of day it is, what other stuff is going on in their world (or globally), what other things are being shared at that particular time. This might give you a headache, but, again, if you’re living and breathing your community you’ll know when to ask for your influencers to help you and when not to. (Obvious example: asking for tweets in the run up to your Annual Meeting = good. Asking for tweets on the couple of days when everyone just got home and is digging out at the office = bad.)
4. Bribery and perks may work temporarily, but it doesn’t build relationships that lead to future impact. I’ve pointed to this great post by Rich Becker before – “If you really want to distinguish true influencers from the rest, they are generally people who are unencumbered by the banner of influence currently embraced by social media. They tend to focus on something else in entirety, such as imagination, creativity, innovation, and truth. You can’t buy their love. You can’t ingratiate them with praise. You can’t inflate their egos. They don’t care what you think.” They don’t care what you think, but they do care about providing value to their networks and their community and their friends. Is what you’re asking them to do something that will help them provide value?
5. If you must take into account follower numbers, ignore any that fall outside whatever the magic middle is for your community. Basically, people with huge followings (and people with tiny followings) will not help your cause. The ones who mighthelp you are those who already care about what you’re doing and who are connected to a small to medium sized core group of other people who might actually listen to them when they share your stuff.
6. The only Twitter metric that matters (to me) for measuring influence… is Lists. If you’re looking for influencers among your Twitter followers and you’re scanning random profiles, you’re probably already discounting those that have weird follower/following ratios, no avatar or no bio description, that broadcast only, that have no @replies or retweets or other signs of being engaged with others, etc. So the absolute key marker, in my opinion, of someone in the magic middle who might have some influence, is what lists they are on. (Note I did NOT say the “number of lists” – the magic middle works here too.) Lists are created by other people about someone, and can be anything from fun to personal to business-related to automated. I recommend looking at the full range of lists someone is on, which should include some in each of those four categories. I was going to deconstruct some poor unknowing stranger’s lists but instead here are the lists I am on as illustration. This is an instant snapshot of a whole bunch of people who took the extra time to add my profile to a list. Check out the descriptions of those lists. Clicking through Twitter lists can also point you to other people who might potentially be influencers for a particular issue, remembering of course that context trumps everything.
7. You must nurture your community before you need it. You have to be in it to win it. You have to build up the trust among those in your community that you will not spam them with asks, that you’ll respect their time, that you’ll figure out what value there is, not just for them personally, but for the people who follow them, in what you’re asking them to share or promote. Don’t use people for their potential influence or impact. Don’t “over-ask”, either. And definitely, absolutely return the favor.